“Equality in all ministries and offices.”

Prospect of voting rights for women at synods of bishops? © Paul Haring (KNA)

At synods, voting rights have so far been "purely a matter for men". This displeases the prioress of the Swiss Benedictine monastery of Fahr, Irene Gassmann. Looking back on the past Youth Synod, she suggests voting rights for women as well.

CBA: You traveled to Rome with a specific request, a right to vote for women at the Amazon Synod, which begins Sunday. Why?

Sister Irene Gassmann (prioress of the Swiss Benedictine monastery of Fahr): A year ago at the Synod of Youth, various bishops and cardinals – for example, our bishop Alain de Raemy or Cardinal Reinhard Marx – said it would be very important that, as a first step, women religious could have a say in the process. This year, however, nothing at all has happened in this direction.

It is high time. As long as men have a higher status in the Church than women and we women depend on them to receive sacraments, there is a power structure from above and below. Our church is in crisis. She is sick. Abuses cannot be completely prevented in this way, but they can probably be reduced. The goal must be equality in all services and offices.

CBA: Your convention is behind you, how is the backing otherwise?

Gassmann: I realize that it takes time. I think someone has to take the first step. How it looks world-wide, to it I have so far no overview. But in our Thursday prayer we are joined by religious women from different continents. It is unbelievable what has been created in recent months, also with the Action Mary 2.0 in Germany. As a continuation, many congregations include Thursday prayer in their program. Something is moving there. People gather to pray, that also encourages them to speak out.

CBA: As an argument against women having the right to vote, it is often said that it is just a synod of bishops. What do you say?
Gassman: With new synod order, Pope Francis has opened that up. At the last synods there were also religious superiors and at the Youth Synod there were two brothers. This raises the question: What is the difference between a religious brother and a religious sister in terms of canon law?? It's all about biological sex. This must be made visible again and again. On the one hand, it's about gender justice, but on the other hand, the church is also giving itself enormous potential. Women, religious women have a lot of experience in pastoral, theology, education. If you simply leave that out of the equation, the church is missing a great deal. It's about a great potential that the church is not using.
CBA: Pope Francis emphasizes the value of women to the Church; he has put more women in leadership positions. How do you explain the fact that further changes are waiting to happen??

Gassmann: I think if the women are calm, nothing else will happen at the moment. Synod is an occasion to draw attention to it.

We are present in front of the Synod and have a cape and an overcoat with the inscription "Overcoming silence" and "Votes for catholic women". There is also the website Kirche-mit.ch, a platform for experiences with the church. It is a kind of wailing wall, but also a place for experiences with worship, prayer, liturgy.

There is a lot of space. In this way we can continue on a gentler and yet decisive path. Many people in Switzerland are fed up. They just don't like it anymore. I think it is very important that we also have staying power: Move forward step by step, have perseverance, don't give up and don't get discouraged.

The interview was conducted by Stefanie Stahlhofen.

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